Friday, September 9, 2011

The Selfish Gene and Right Wing Economists

Below is an interesting documentary with Richard Dawkins from 1987. Apparently following the publication of his book "The Selfish Gene" right wing economists regarded it as some sort of justification for their exploitative and seemingly nasty economic theories. Only the strong surviving and the weak poor suffer their fate as nature intended.

In this documentary Dawkins explains that this is a misinterpretation of what the biological science shows. He uses interesting studies in game theory to show that under natural selection kindness and mutual aid could be expected to produce a selective advantage. Altruism could be expected to make it more likely that a species would continue to pass on its genes successfully.

Our society teeters on the verge of environmental destruction and nuclear war, in my view because of our lack of empathy and altruism. If Dawkins is right and altruism is preferred by natural selection, then altruism is what the world will get. And it will get it either with humans or without them.

5 comments:

HispanicPundit said...

He uses interesting studies in game theory to show that under natural selection kindness and mutual aid could be expected to produce a selective advantage. Altruism could be expected to make it more likely that a species would continue to pass on its genes successfully.

Well then it must be good to know that the right is far more generous than the left.

This formula makes sense to me as well: let the invisible hand work in the market as efficiently as possible, and use charities and private organizations to help bring in "fairness". Call it the Warren Buffett method. :-)

Jon said...

Did we have a discussion a while back about how this is really just church giving? I was arguing that the right gives to church and that's not strictly altruistic. That's basically guilt and fear. Give or you don't go to heaven. Of course it's not stated that way, but there's an undercurrent of that. You may have had some data that said even excluding church giving conservatives give more. If you recall that give me a link.

The formula you are extracting is not at all the formulat offered by Dawkins, so it's pretty obvious you didn't watch the video. "Invisible hand of the market work as efficiently as possible"? That's nothing like that that you can extract from this video. And your market efficiency is very dubious. Kind of depends on how you define efficiency. Wiping out the indigenous people of Ecuador, stealing their land, and taking their oil may be efficient for people like us that enjoy the benefits of the cheap oil, but it's not efficient for the dying and starving indigenous people.

HispanicPundit said...

There is more at the links. But let me just say that it's not just Churches. It also things like blood: Conservatives donate more blood than liberals. Volunteer. etc.

And it's not just the religious either. Even secular conservatives are more charitable than secular liberals.

I'll ignore your lack of understanding of capitalism. :-)

Jon said...

Which link? Am I supposed to read 10 links to find it?

The High Priest said...

Steven Landsburg has a wonderful chapter on this -- stating that the metaphor is totally wrong because the free market is actually much more powerful than natural selection. (A free market would never produce the equivalent of a peacock's feathers.)